On January 19 of this year, just days before President Bush delivered his State of the Union address, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) delivered what they dubbed as their own “address on the state of our union” at the National Press Club. In it, Senator Reid expressed hope that the president, the Congress, and the nation would “listen to the generals” in determining what steps to take next in Iraq. Weeks later, Speaker Pelosi echoed his words exactly while appearing on Larry King Live, and their advice — “listen to the Generals” — became a Democratic rallying cry throughout the spring … a rallying cry that I subscribe to, in fact.
In May, Congress enacted a bill that funded our troops without tying the hands of their commanders on the ground, and included in the legislation was language that directed our nation’s new commander in Iraq — General David Petraeus — to report to Congress this fall on the progress of his fresh strategy in Iraq. With the troop surge complete and Operation Phantom Thunder underway since June 15, he arrives on Capitol Hill today to give members of both parties a firsthand opportunity to listen to the general. Indeed, my colleagues would be well served not to sacrifice this incredible opportunity to partisan politics.
I’ve been around politics long enough to know that what we will hear from General Petraeus this week will be spun instantly by officials in Washington, pundits inside and outside the Beltway, and interest groups on both sides of this issue. However, I hope Democrats and Republicans alike recognize that we are on the doorstep of one of the most important weeks we’ll ever experience during our time in public service. And I hope we realize that the choices we will make after his testimony will impact the security of the Middle East, our nation, and the world for generations to come.
Valuable as they have been, all of the congressional delegation trips we’ve heard about this summer and each of the third-party reports. Members on both sides of the aisle have highlighted to bolster their arguments have laid an important foundation for the General’s words. But they cannot replace them. His testimony — mandated by Congress and awaited by an anxious nation — represents the most unvarnished and critical perspective on our war against al Qaeda in Iraq we will hear to date. And Congress has an obligation to treat him with the respect he has earned — starting with universally condemning MoveOn.org’s despicable, shameless full-page attack on him in this morning’s New York Times, which culminates a weekend in which some have impugned his integrity at every turn.
But more importantly, we have the duty to respect the credentials — including unanimous Senate confirmation — that bring him before us today and, as Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi have advised, listen to the general. This is a defining week for this Congress and this nation. History will remember how we performed this week, and when our grandchildren’s grandchildren read about it, I’m hopeful that — in a safer nation within a freer world — they’ll be able to say that we served them well.